Shaman Drum Bookshop to Close June 30

Owner Karl Pohrt to continue nonprofit center for the literary arts

Karl Pohrt, who opened Shaman Drum Bookshop nearly 30 years ago, has decided to close the business on June 30. He plans to continue efforts to obtain nonprofit status for a separate venture, the Great Lakes Literary Arts Center.

The decision comes after many months of financial struggles at the bookstore, which Pohrt outlined in a column published by The Chronicle in February. In that column, he reported that textbook sales in 2008 had declined $510,000 from the previous year. He cut payroll and other operating expenses, but couldn’t cover the shop’s losses. Though trade sales (books of general interest) were up, that didn’t compensate for the loss of textbook sales. “The evaporation of our position has been astonishingly swift,” he wrote. “We had been holding relatively even financially until September. Suddenly we’ve moved into the red.”

In an email sent Tuesday afternoon, Pohrt wrote about his decision to close:

On the advice of my accountant and my business manager, I am closing Shaman Drum Bookshop June 30. Despite a first rate staff, a fiercely loyal core of customers, a very decent landlord and my own commitment to the community of arts and letters in Ann Arbor, it is clear to me that the bookshop is not a sustainable business.

In spite of the downturn in the economy, Ann Arbor continues to be an excellent book town. There are wonderful independent stores here (Crazy Wisdom, Nicolas’s Books), fine specialty book stores (Vault of Midnight, Aunt Agatha’s) and great used bookshops (Dawn Treader, West Side Books, Motte & Bailey). They need your support.

Over a year ago we began a process to become a non-profit center for the literary arts. I am decoupling Shaman Drum Bookshop from the Great Lakes Literary Arts Center, which should simplify and streamline our IRS application. I will pursue this new venture after we close the store.

Shaman Drum Bookshop has been here for 29 years. We had 28 good years. Thank you for your support. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to be a bookseller in Ann Arbor.

Section: Business

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  1. By Linda Diane Feldt
    June 9, 2009 at 4:59 pm | permalink

    Oh, I so didn’t want to have this time come. Thanks for everything Karl and Diane. I hope the non-profit is a great new adventure, and soon!

  2. June 9, 2009 at 9:07 pm | permalink

    Ugh. My wife worked at the Drum when we were in college, and we did our first readings there when we had stories in an anthology together. She and our toddler were just there a few days ago buying books. Such a bummer.

  3. By Tor
    June 9, 2009 at 10:10 pm | permalink

    Sorry to hear it. Good luck with the Lit Arts Center.

  4. By Heidi Fenz
    June 10, 2009 at 5:51 am | permalink

    So very very sad to hear that Shaman Drum will be closing. Of course I remember when you opened…..Shaman Drum accompanied me through high school, college, grad school,when i worked there, travels, and babies—one of the motivating factors for which to come home to Ann Arbor and hang-out downtown, and a strong source of Ann Arbor identity.Shaman Drum also taught me a lot about independence.
    I wish you all the best moving on to the next phase, and we will meet again.

  5. June 10, 2009 at 10:04 am | permalink

    Non-profit status will be simplified by decoupling the for-profit operation. I was once a very avid book store browser, but I’ve moved almost entirely onto the net now.

  6. June 10, 2009 at 3:14 pm | permalink

    It’s hard for me to get upset at a store whose business model apparently revolved around getting professors to exclusively list their books at Shaman Drum. Heavy migration of student textbook purchases to the internet implies that I spent my undergraduate years shelling out 50% to 100% more money than I otherwise would have. Like newspapers, the Drum was never a sustainable business without monopoly power, which does not mix well with the internet.

  7. By Mark
    June 11, 2009 at 11:04 am | permalink

    Brian – your assumption IS just that, an assumption.

  8. By Jason
    June 11, 2009 at 12:21 pm | permalink

    I’m sad to see the Shaman Drum trade business go. It is a great place to browse and discover new books. I agree with Brian, though – I couldn’t help but be happy to see the textbook operation close down. The buying experience was horrible (waiting in line for an hour to climb up some stairs, where you couldn’t find anything easily and the staff was overwhelmed by the crowd of humanities folks looking for their books at the only shop in town that carried them.) The prices were also much higher than Amazon – as an undergraduate in the early 2000′s, I regularly saved $300-400 per semester on my textbooks for History classes. I just can’t mourn the passing of such a pain in the neck.

  9. By B
    June 15, 2009 at 11:13 pm | permalink


    If you were not a student at the University, I think that your comment may make a lot of sense. Otherwise, I am curious if you never were required to purchase a book at the Drum while on campus.

    Shaman Drum may have been great as an actual bookstore and having been on the lower levels several times, I enjoyed the wide range of literature available. But the upstairs textbook store was entirely based on ripping off students while simultaneously making professors feel as if they need to support local business. Rude employees and ridiculous policies only added insult to injury. Had Shaman Drum never invested in making themselves a textbook resource, I think you would find many more sympathetic students. We are well aware that much of the blame lies on the publishers for their ridiculous markups and new editions. Shaman Drum did little to help the situation, however, and I am not sad to see them go.

  10. June 16, 2009 at 9:04 am | permalink

    I’ve been a loyal fan of Shaman Drum for my entire life as an adopted Ann Arborite. 25 years ago I was a graduate student and SD was the source of text books, and with a degree in hand, SD became my first stop when looking for books to read on the train or plane. For me it has been a living embodiment of how town & gown actually connect in this college town, and a store that encouraged me not just to read, but also to think. It was an independent bookstore owned by the most independent of men – Karl Pohrt – and I feel enormously proud and fortunate that I have had the pleasure of knowing them both. The store and the man both contributed a great deal to making the State Street area a unique and wonderful place for nearly thirty years and I am grateful to them both.